The town of Lemvig, on Denmark’s west coast, may be small and far away from the capital, but it aspires to play a vital role in the nation’s efforts to fight climate change. Aggressive storms and rising sea levels have heightened the risk of flooding, prompting the town to redevelop an old industrial area on its waterfront: adding a flood wall, installing a new promenade, spaces for new businesses, and most importantly, an international climate change centre, Klimatorium, to offer a meeting point for residents and tourists, educate the public about the climate emergency, and support Denmark’s role as an exporter of climate solutions.

Commissioned by the town council to create this centrepiece, architects 3XN devised a two-storey building that makes a visual statement while keeping to a limited budget and environmental footprint. The landmark feature is a wave-shaped wooden pocket, caving into the southern façade of the building and facing a skate park by the Copenhagen-based studio Effekt, completed in 2013. Clad in local pine, the wave is smoothly contoured for the most part, but tiered at the base to provide seating. As Jan Ammundsen, senior partner and head of design at 3XN explains, the initial intention was simple: to create a sheltered spot that would be available to both the building’s users and passers-by, bathed in sunlight but protected from westerly winds across the water. ‘We are hoping to create a small possibility for them to sit, enjoy the moment, and speak to each other,’ says Ammundsen. ‘It’s a way for the building to give a little bit back to the town.’

the entrance of the Lemvig Klimatorium is clad in timber as the building sits on a concrete plinth

Inspired by their design of Stockholm’s Odenplan metro station, the architects decided that, rather than erecting a standalone pavilion, they could push this rest spot into the building for greater visual impact. A wave form made sense given the waterfront location and Lemvig’s maritime heritage, and also serves as a sharp geometric contrast with the otherwise rectilinear architecture. The rest of the building is modest and pragmatic. The lower level, which accommodates a reception area, café and a space for temporary exhibitions (currently ‘Climate Without Borders’, with an emphasis on local solutions such as Lemvig’s flood wall), is wrapped in floor-to-ceiling glass.

This transparency has dual benefits: it puts the Klimatorium’s activities on display; and it offers unobstructed views of the surrounding landscape and water. The upper level, where the workspaces are located, is cloaked in a lamella skin, while blackened pine panels sit perpendicular to the generously proportioned windows, focusing attention on the warmer natural tones of the wave structure. ‘We didn’t want it to be an all-glass building,’ recalls Ammundsen. ‘Practically, we don’t want it to overheat, but the other reason for using wood is that we wanted the building to have a certain mass and robustness.’ This part of Denmark is known for a down-to-earth approach to construction, with unpretentious buildings made from functional materials, so it was important for 3XN to do the same.

The use of timber continues into the building’s interior. The back of the wooden wave structure – which, in a fitting nod to Lemvig’s shipyards, resembles the look of a ship’s hull – is left exposed to add visual intrigue. A wide staircase is in light wood, as are the slatted ceiling panels. The architects initially hoped for a full timber structure, but that proved unrealistic due to cost and water issues. Instead they settled on a concrete core (which is easy to produce and maintain), while also minimising the amount of aluminium and steel in order to reduce carbon emissions. ‘It’s a way to push for a sustainable solution within a building that is all about climate change,’ says Ammundsen.

Inside the Lemvig Klimatorium, a timber clad curve protrudes, defining the interior

Despite limited public access during the pandemic, 3XN’s building is already gaining recognition, including being named building of the year for 2020 in Denmark’s Årets Byggeri awards. ‘It’s a project that fulfilled all our wishes,’ says Lars Holmegaard, the Klimatorium’s CEO. ‘It’s a building that’s close to nature – even when you’re inside, you feel the interaction with nature and the ocean. The wave structure has been even more valuable than we could imagine. People have really embraced it as a place to sit and relax. When you build an international climate office on the outskirts of Denmark, you must create something quite unique, something iconic. This building is great for a small town like Lemvig.’

Asked if there are any elements of the Klimatorium that have influenced upcoming 3XN projects, Ammundsen says, ‘You can make a big impact by doing something basic and giving it a bit of a twist. It’s a good thing to have some constraints and use them properly. It can make things simpler, and maybe even nicer if you’re lucky.’ §